It’s been a while since I posted a specific book review instead of just noting that I’ve been reading. But this book, Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams, seemed important enough to get its own book review: link, and blog post.
Queenie is going into free fall. She just broke up with her boyfriend Tom even as she miscarried a pregnancy neither of them knew about.
In order to get over him, she decides to go on a rebound rampage, having sex with whatever guys who want her, in the name of improving her self esteem and in support of what seems to be her feminist sexual empowerment.
But she goes further into free fall as the guys she has sex with see her as nothing more than a sex object that they can pump, dump, and even abuse. But she tells herself she likes the rough sex they offer her, even as she feels terrible because she isn’t getting the emotional intimacy she craves.
Queenie approaches rock bottom after showing up several times at the sexual health clinic because she is worried about STDS–none of her partners practice safe sex. Her health care provider is concerned that she is being abused sexually or even prostituted, but Queenie denies it. Even as she denies it, the health care provider gives her a referral to see a therapist.
Queenie goes further into the pit when her boss puts her on a leave of absence because she is becoming erratic at work and one of the men who had sex with her–a coworker named Ted who came onto her hot and heavy–files a sexual harassment claim as though she had been the one harassing him.
I felt for her as a reader as I could see the downward spiral she was in from the beginning, but I couldn’t help but wonder why she was adapting feminist models of empowerment that did nothing for her as an Afro-Caribbean British woman of Jamaican descent. The discussion group guide didn’t address this. Yet, it’s clear that feminism and black lives matter is a strong component of Queenie’s consciousness.
My heart broke when she said she thought she deserved the treatment she experienced.
For those reasons, the book was a difficult read, and I even wondered whether the author was celebrating Queenie’s lifestyle choices, until I recalled the epigraph dedicated to the “Queenies.” It seems the author was critiquing the realities that shaped Queenie’s experiences, but I thought she could have done more.
Black women have always talked about the significance of sexual domination in feminist theory–there are too many thinkers to recount here–but Queenie, as a 20-something, doesn’t seem versed in them. I suppose that has to do with the reality of where feminist theory has been developing, third wave choice and power feminism. Whatever makes a woman feel empowered is feminist, and without any critique or judgment.
I can’t help but think that if Queenie had other feminist tools, she would have gotten some insights much earlier, to critique the choices she was making and why.
It was only through her therapy sessions that we learn of the abuse she experienced as a child and the abuse of her mother that she observed which led her down this path. Her mother was a single mom; her father was a married man who never told her mother he had a wife. Her mom then found a boyfriend who abused both of them.
Queenie associates black men with abandonment and abuse at the same time the white men (and one Asian man) she has sex with see her as a side piece while they date and marry other women (white and Asian) whom they respect and value more.
Queenie’s healing and redemption came through in the end when she could grow through talk therapy as she continued to rely on the support of her family and best female friends. She removed the toxicity in her life–refusing to date another prejudiced white man; getting Ted fired; and finally removing Tom’s contact from her phone.
I liked learning more about Black British culture, as I thought about the parallels to Black culture in the U.S., and especially as it related to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora and the significance of Brixton, the London neighborhood where Queenie’s Jamaican grandparents had strong ties.
With respect to the faith background of Queenie’s family, they are Roman Catholic, but it’s only a strong component among the members of the earlier generations. Even that made me wonder, though. How might she have been helped through her family’s faith tradition? Could Roman Catholicism have offered a critique of her feminist perspectives? So even though Queenie isn’t an inspirational romance, it’s a valuable read as an example of modern chick lit within women’s fiction.
Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.